Twitter has suspended accounts claiming to belong to two Saudi Arabian sisters who fled the country to seek asylum, as well as the account of an activist who was posting on their behalf.
The social network pulled two accounts purporting to belong to Doaa, 22, and Dalal al-Showaiki, 20, who say they ran away to Turkey to escape abuse in their home country.
A third account, belonging to Saudi activist Ali Hashim, was also removed after he posted material on the al-Showaiki sisters’ behalf.
Over the past week, the runaways posted videos, photographs, and messages in which they described their situation and asked human rights organizations for help.
In one video on Hashim’s Twitter page, Doaa said: “My father took our passport and our national identity. He is looking for us now. We are at risk.”
INSIDER has been intermittently in touch with the women, but has not been able to verify any details of their story.
Their plight has, however, been followed by Detained in Dubai, a campaign group that provides legal assistance to people across the Middle East.
The first account linked to the two sisters was suspended on Thursday, after two days of posting. Two more accounts were set up and removed within hours.
After the suspensions, Hashim said he would give the sisters use of his account, and posted videos of them speaking which had not been published before. Later on Thursday, his account was also suspended.
INSIDER has asked Twitter repeatedly over the past 24 hours to explain why it removed the accounts, but has yet to receive an answer.
Social media has proved a valuable tool for women fleeing Saudi Arabia, where the ultra-conservative legal system gives men formal power over the women in their lives.
Earlier this year, 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed successfully gained asylum after she documented her attempts to resist deportation to Saudi Arabia from Thailand in a viral Twitter campaign.
Saudi Arabia considers the women leaving the country a serious problem, and has taken extreme measures to find them, including using military-grade technology to track their phones.
During their attempts to apprehend Mohammed in Thailand, a Saudi official explicitly said he wished that she had not had access to social media.
Abdulelah Al-Shuaibi, Saudi chargé d’affaires in Bangkok, said he wished the Thai police “would’ve taken her phone instead of her passport.”
Mohammed later said her social media activity played a decisive part in securing her asylum in Canada.
The campaign group Detained in Dubai said that the account suspensions may have been due to coordinated complaints. Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, was quoted in a press release on Thursday saying:
“It is possible that the suspensions were due to Dua and Dalal’s family lodging malicious complaints against the Twitter accounts.”
“I certainly hope that Twitter is not censoring the sisters’ story under pressure from Saudi shareholders.”
Stirling also told INSIDER: “Given the great power of Twitter as a platform in emergency situations, they need to create additional means to ensure that accounts pleading for assistance are not suspended, which could put people at risk.”
The group set up a new account for the sisters, @SaveDuaDalal, which remained online at time of writing.
As well as Twitter, INSIDER has contacted the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Turkey, for comment.